Cordless-drill chargers: You get what you pay for

Consumer Reports News: September 29, 2011 03:02 PM

When Consumer Reports tests cordless drill/drivers for home use, we assess speed, power, run and charge times, and other performance-based criteria. But it hasn’t escaped our notice that the chargers for some of these power tools are nothing short of wimpy.

Across the gamut of drills, impact drivers, and cordless screwdrivers we’ve tested, the best chargers are designed to get you back to work as soon as possible—even if the drill ships with only one battery. They also tell you what you need to know in four basic ways:

  1. Acknowledging that you’ve inserted a battery;
  2. Checking the battery, delaying the charge if too hot or telling you the battery can no longer be charged;
  3. Indicating that a charge is in progress; and
  4. Indicating that charging is complete.

Take the Ridgid R86008K (see photo), $180, one of the top-rated drill/drivers in the general-use category of our cordless drill Ratings. Like all so-called “smart” chargers, it initially does a “fast charge” to bring the battery nearly to full, and then a trickle charge for the last stage. When you first plug one of its lithium-ion batteries into the charger, its flashes its “Evaluate” indicator during a quick check. It shows it’s charging by flashing green—and lights one to four red bars to show charge level. Once charging is done, at about 25 minutes for this model, the flashing green stops pulsating.

In all the tested models that come with smart chargers, each one tells you basically what you need to know. (With some, you’ll need to study the manual to learn its sequence.) But if you’re determined to pay less than about $80 for a drill, expect to be left guessing in the middle of a job.

All of the models we consider general-use or for tougher jobs had recharge times of an hour or less, with a half-dozen general-use and two tougher-job models recharging in no more than 30 minutes. Among the models in our light-use category, however, nearly half have trickle charge only—meaning a three-hour or longer recharge. Nine of those models also come with only one battery, resulting in an unpleasant surprise if you run down the battery before the job is done.

Case in point: the trickle-charge you get with most of the light-duty Skil drill/drivers we tested, along with what shipped with the Rockwell RC2122K, $40. With these chargers, a light comes on to tell you you’ve inserted a battery. Want to know if it’s charging, if it's nearly charged, or when it’s done? Besides less speed, power, and run times—and longer charge times—paying too little also buys less information.

A low run time in our tests isn’t necessarily a reason to pass on a model you’ll only use for light tasks. Even a lowly cordless screwdriver scoring Fair in that test can still drive more than a hundred standard wood screws per battery charge, says CR program leader Peter Sawchuk. If the model has quick recharge and a second battery, it might still be worth considering if the price is right. And if the charger keeps you in the loop as it’s doing its job, you’re in even better shape.

Ed Perratore

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